So, I ran my 5th half marathon (4th technically, considering one of them was a DNF thanks to the organizers not calculating the distance correctly.), and managed to improve my previous time by quite a bit – roughly 6 minutes I think. And considering there was more elevation involved than my previous runs, I think I had a fairly decent run. The last two miles could have been better, but that’s always a pain point.
Preparation is always a problem. With busy schedules, and outside weather, it can become difficult to stick to a nice regimen where you feel confident with each passing day. After running the Austin Half Marathon in February, (on Valentines Day, no less ;) ) my activity levels dropped to like sub-zero levels, thanks mostly to a maddening work schedule. It wasn’t till mid May that I felt I had enough time to start running again, and by then I felt both sluggish and the constant left knee pain. By now my plan was to substitute runs for bike rides to get the cardio in, but keep the knee from getting over-strained. I enjoy biking anyway, so it isn’t such a bad trade-off.
By end of June, I was feeling pretty good about myself, when thanks to either my posture at work or my sleeping posture, or my stupid mattress which is supposed to be “Extra Firm” but is anything but that, I developed a very bad lower back pain. I do not like seeking medical help for minor issues especially if I feel those will go away with rest. Initially I tried biking and running with it, and it seemed ok – the pain did not get exacerbated. Then one nice run, the pain was intense and shooting pains along the lower back lead me to take it easy and stop all forms of physical activity with 2 weeks to go for the event – not good. I was hoping I’d be able to at least complete the race by walking instead of running in the worst case. While I was trying to manage the pain, running again was pretty much out of the question.
I did try a couple of practice walks the week before the event, and those went ok. So going into the event, I hadn’t really run in two weeks. Yikes!
Pre Race Day:
Me, a friend (Shyam) and a friend of his, went late to the event. I was supposed to be in wave 4 and he was in wave 7, and by the time we got to the start line, everyone but the last Full Marathon wave was gone. To make matters worse, I didn’t fill my bottles with water, and now had no way of doing it before beginning the run. Considering the SF Marathon organizers screwed up the aid stations last year, this was not comforting.
We started the run behind almost everyone, and the initial couple of miles, my back was singing to me – I was being cautious and didn’t want to overdo it, so was trying to pace myself to 10 min/mile. Miles 1-5 were pretty alright, with me stopping once for water/electrolytes. At this point, I was roughly averaging roughly 10 min a mile.
Mile 6 is a 200ft climb, and I managed a 12:20 mile.
By mile 7 when I was on Golden Gate, I was beginning to get hungry – I had eaten nothing in the morning and had drank half a bottle of Naked juice. I generally eat a bagel or a banana before starting a run. Golden gate is pretty packed with runners and finding opportunities to get past slower runners can be slightly annoying.
Mile 8 was again slightly slow owing to the water stop, and eating the gu gel while walking at a comfortable pace, so that I didn’t choke on it. I also took the opportunity to fill one of my bottles.
Miles 9,10 and 11 were also pretty neatly done in spite of some more climbs and down slopes – you cannot go as fast on the down slopes as you’d like because your knees get pounded pretty bad.
The last 2 miles was roughly another 200ft climb, and this was pretty killer. I hadn’t really prepared for this – I hadn’t looked at the elevation map, and tried planning my run based on that because I figured it is what it is. At the end of mile 11, I was 1:55:15. I figured with 2 miles to go, and not feeling all that weary, I’d make 2:15:00, which is a personal goal for me. But if you factor in the 200 ft climb, that pretty much kills you. Also considering my left knee was beginning to act up by now, I was a little doubtful. I think I held out till 12.5 miles – finishing mile 12 in 2:06:26 (ok, 8:30 last mile was going to be hard even on a flat) and doing 12.5 miles in 2:11:40. The last 0.6 miles took me , well, 8 minutes and 20 seconds – you guessed it – pretty much walking pace. Roughly a 100 ft climb in the 0.6 miles is pretty sucky! By then I had run out of steam, and didn’t care. My left knee was also beginning to let me know it wasn’t happy. I did manage to finish in 2:20:07, which is ok, considering the elevation, but a 2:15 would have been nice nevertheless. I did run conservatively for the most part, and even after the event wasn’t all that tired except for the left knee giving me a lot of pain, and my back also beginning to chime in.
To be fair, I think running with someone also gave me some extra impetus to do slightly better. Whenever I saw Shyam ahead of me, I’d at least slowly try to catch up, and he was right there with me till about mile 8 after which I lost him.
I’d like to do a 2:15 then a 2:10, then a 2:05 and finally break sub 2:00 – hopefully before the end of the year. :) I also don’t think I’m going to be running any more paid half marathons for now. I don’t much care for the finisher medals, and I am not fast enough to consider it racing. Maybe when I am close to a 1:30 finish, I will pay to run again. I might based on my timing run one more in India if I happen to visit later this year.